Chicken or Cow: Effects of Livestock Ownership on Animal Source Foods Consumption and Childhood Nutrition in Rural Uganda

Original working paper authored by: Carlo Azzarri (IFPRI), Elizabeth Cross (BLS), Beliyou Haile (IFPRI), and Alberto Zezza (World Bank)

In the subsistence farming communities of Africa South of the Sahara the species of livestock on which households rely certainly impact diet and childhood nutrition, but surprisingly few studies have rigorously explored this relationship. HarvestChoice researchers co-investigate the relationships between livestock ownership, animal source food (ASF) consumption patterns, and childhood nutrition in Uganda.

Livestock contribute to household livelihoods in a variety of ways – by providing manure, traction power, savings and insurance, and collateral for financial services. In many developing countries as the level of development advances, populations grow bigger, wealthier, more urban, and with this follows a change in dietary preferences and demand for more meat and dairy. This “livestock revolution” is expected to boost the share of developing countries in total world meat consumption from the current level of 52 percent to 63 percent by 2050.

The present work explores whether ownership of different types of livestock increases consumption of ASF and helps improve child nutritional status, using micro-data from the nationally representative 2005/06 Uganda National Household Survey (UNHS) and the 2009/2010 Uganda National Panel Survey (UNPS). Uganda offers a rich study environment due to the commonness of livestock ownership, recent growth in the livestock sector, and high levels of malnutrition; indeed, prevalence of stunting and anemia in children under five are 33 percent and 50 percent, respectively.

Turns out, according to the analysis, the relationship between livestock ownership and what animal products households are consuming in rural Uganda depends on the animals’ species. Households with large ruminants (cattle) clearly consumed more dairy than non-owners, but ate about the same amount of beef. Also, while farming poultry means more chicken consumption, ownership of small ruminants does not have a significant effect on consumption of goat and sheep meat. From a methodological point of view, these results point to the importance of being able to differentiate animal types and ASF products in order to gauge whether and to what extent herd composition and size can lead to higher consumption of ASF.

The relationship between livestock ownership and childhood nutrition is a more mixed bag. Results suggest that the number of small ruminants in the household decreases the probability of children being underweight and wasted, while large ruminants may actually increase the number of underweight children. Both effects are limited to children 3-4 years old. Childhood stunting, on the other hand, does not seem to be affected by the number or type of livestock owned by the household.

Results are suggestive that policies designed to promote livestock ownership could potentially affect human nutrition in Uganda and other sub-Saharan African countries, but the direction and magnitude of the effect is still controversial. Indeed, hygiene problems linked to livestock, livestock-borne disease, and the competition for foodstuff between human and livestock consumption may lead to a perverse effect of livestock on nutritional outcomes. This study dispels the common belief that owning livestock ultimately leads to better childhood nutrition. And in terms of health consequences for children, smaller is sometimes better.


HarvestChoice, 2014. "Chicken or Cow: Effects of Livestock Ownership on Animal Source Foods Consumption and Childhood Nutrition in Rural Uganda." International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, DC., and University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN. Available online at

Sep 16, 2014